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Saturday, 2004, January 31
Serena Hotel, Kabul

Kabul is currently in the midst of a hotel-construction boom, with many of the new or refurbished facilities planning to offer luxury accommodation for visitors to this devastated capital city.
The Kabul Hotel in the centre of town even plans to include a presidential suite as part of a $25 million revamp. The hotel, which will become the latest addition to the Aga Khan Development Network's (AKDN) worldwide 'collection' of Serena hotels, is described as being an 'Afghanized five-star' facility. Ideas include suites fitted out by artisans from different regions of the country, with the first phase of the project scheduled to open in August.

Meanwhile, plans are under way for construction of a 200-room Hyatt Regency hotel, scheduled to open by 2005. That facility will include conference rooms and a communications centre.

And rising fast over the central Shari Now Park is the 10-storied, glass-mirrored 'Kabul City Centre, ' which will include shops, serviced apartments and a ballroom as well as superior hotel rooms.

A little further out of town the Intercontinental Hotel is also undergoing a major facelift with its swimming pool - a feature on many of the country's postcards - due to splash back into action next summer. The work is being carried out by a Dubai-based group which has signed a 15-year lease with the government for the establishment. A special suite will cost $470 a night.

In a city where this nightly rate equals the annual wages of most residents, such projects have their critics. Dr Bibi Haji, who practices medicine at a hospital near the Kabul Hotel, wonders: 'Wouldn't it be better that the Aga Khan spends this money . . . on building a maternity hospital for women?'

A worker at the Telecommunications Ministry, who did not want to be named, complained, 'What will be the advantage of such hotels? ... Will the money go into a widow or orphan's pocket?' Those involved with the hotel projects say that while the facilities are aimed at the elite, they will create benefits that will accrue to the entire city and the nation.

Aly Mawji, AKDN's resident representative in Kabul, said that its hotel should serve as 'a symbol to the Afghan people and the international community that a private investor has the confidence in the development and stability of the country to undertake such a significant investment.'-Dawn/The IWPR News Service.

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